Sunday marks the start of the Blue Jays regular season and after their run in the playoffs last year, the end of the shortest (and what felt like longest) offseason in 23 years. The drama of the offseason seems to be behind the team and it’s time to set out to defend their American League East title.
Here are my five reasons why I think the Jays will repeat as American League East Champions.
At the start of last season the Jays defense was a huge cause for concern. There were major question marks up the middle and in the outfield that cost the team games in the first half that were very winnable (anyone remember Chris Colabello in Left Field?). After the trade deadline acquisition of Troy Tulowitzki sent Jose Reyes and the huge hole in his glove out the door, the Jays defense became a major reason they won the division.
This season we’ll get to see a full year of Tulo at short and with Ryan Goins, they will form perhaps the best middle infield in the league. This year the Jays have a solid outfield in Michael Saunders, Kevin Pillar and Jose Bautista. Pillar established himself last season as one of the best defensive center fielders last year and that he could get to almost any ball (and usually in spectacular fashion!).
This improved defense from the start of the season takes some of the pressure off of the pitching staff who know that they don’t need to win the game on their own and will keep them in the game.
Last year the Jays line-up was the most formidable in Major League Baseball. The Jays lead the majors in runs scored (891), home runs (232), on-base percentage (.340) and slugging percentage (.457) and were second in batting average (.270).
For the most part last year’s lineup returns almost full in-tact with a few tweaks here and there. But the Jays lineup, one through nine, makes a lineup that teams throughout the league have taken notice of and I’m sure are causing a few sleepless nights for starting pitchers (looking at you David Price).
The Jays lineup is going to score runs…a lot of runs, which should help them put distance between themselves and the rest of the division.
Coming into the season the Jays bullpen seems set and could be one of the best in the league. A sign of the improvement in the bullpen is management’s decision to put Aaron Sanchez into the starting rotation. Sanchez has been placed in the rotation based on his performance in spring training but there is no doubt that having a more solid bullpen in place allowed the Jays to give him a chance to start.
Roberto Osuna has been given the closers role after showing success at the end of last season. He’s been joined by Drew Storen who was picked up in an offseason trade with the Washington Nationals. With the return of left handed specialist Brett Cecil, who has bounced back from a devastating injury in the ALDS, the Jays have the making of a solid trio to close out games. And don’t count out what having veterans Gavin Floyd and Jesse Chavez will help in the pen.
Wide Open AL East
I used to curse the fact that the Blue Jays were in the American League East. For the last two decades we have not been able to compete with the big budgets of the Yankees and Red Sox. But in the last few seasons the East has come back to earth.
There is definitely parity in the division coming into the season, but this presents a great opportunity for the Jays. While many are picking the Red Sox (including Las Vegas) to win the division, there are all kinds of question marks in their rotation and young line-up. The Yankees are another year older and have many holes in their rotation. Ditto for the Orioles. The Rays, who have always been a thorn in the side of the Jays seem to be making strides but still feel a few seasons away.
With a weak division and a team that is built for now, the Jays can run away with the division.
As mentioned earlier the team that will start the season is relatively the same team that lost to Kansas City in the ALCS. These guys have gotten to know each other, bonded over the pain of losing and focused together on taking the next step. All the stories about the clubhouse in Dunedin are that they are a loose group who genuinely like each other. There have been a lot of distractions this offseason from a new GM, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion’s contracts and roster changes. The team has shut out the noise, remaining focused on the job at hand.
How loose are they? Check out the challenge Jose Bautista put before Chris Colabello while out for dinner.
While team chemistry and character isn’t something you can measure it does translate into the way a team performs on the field especially when facing adversity.
At the end of the day, predictions are just predictions. The only way to see if the Jays can repeat is with their play on the field. It all starts on Sunday and I for one can’t wait to see what this season brings!
How do you think the Jays will do this season? What’s got you excited for the 2016 season?